Volume 4  No 1

The Voice of Bliss … By Venerable Shen-Kai

1. The Five Precepts and Ten Virtuous Deeds

What is good to us may not be so to others, much like the proverb ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’. Often we think that we are good, but people whom we think are bad also think of themselves as being good. So, what is the standard definition of goodness? In the following article, we learn that the Five Precepts and the Ten Virtuous Deeds define the universal standard of goodness. Observing the Five Precepts and performing the Ten Virtuous Deeds ensure rebirth in the human realm.

ALL OF us consider ourselves to be good people. It is because there is no universal consensus as to good or evil that the Buddha defines a standard based on the Truth - the Five Precepts and the Ten Virtuous Deeds.

The Five Precepts are to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, consumption of intoxicants, and the Ten Virtuous Deeds are to refrain from killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, frivolous and meaningless talk, tale bearing, abusive speech, covetousness, ill-will, perverted views. Violating any of these will land one in the three evil realms of transmigration: realm of animals, ghost and hell.

Observing the Five Precepts and practising the Ten Virtuous Deeds ensure rebirth in the human realm. One who performs the highest grade of the Ten Virtuous Deeds can ascend to heaven. However, this is still not the ultimate because even if one has ascended to the highest heaven - the heaven that is beyond the condition of thinking or not-thinking, and the seeds of evil thoughts sowed in the past mature, one
immediately descends to hell. To attain the ultimate, one must not commit evil deeds. One should not be attached to the good deeds that one has committed either. It is in this way that we liberate from transmigration in the six realms. It is because sentient beings do not have principles that the Buddha sets this standard. digvol4.1-5.jpg (4916 bytes)

There are two kinds of Buddhists: those who have faith in the Buddha, and those who learn from the Buddha. Generally the broad masses believe that Buddha exists, and they also believe in the Dharma spoken by the Buddha. However, a believer in the Dharma may not put them into practice. As for learning from the Buddha, we emulate the Buddha in all his cultivation and deeds. Not only do we take refuge in and form causes with the Three Treasures, we also need to follow the Buddha in renouncing the worldly life and cultivate until we become Buddha ourselves.

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2. Precepts are the basis of safeguarding blessings

When we are ignorant we lament over observing the Five Precepts. But, if we cannot abstain from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and being intoxicated, then we would have problems as human beings. Observing the precepts actually takes on a more advanced meaning in that it safeguards our blessings; breaking them means depleting our blessings. It is a simple rule of cause and effect.

SOME PEOPLE are afraid of taking refuge in the Three Treasures because they are afraid of having to observe the precepts. These people should be encouraged to take refuge first, and we then gradually inspire them to observe the precepts.

Jen Chen Buddhism advocates that everyone observes the Five Precepts (abstention from killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and consumption of intoxicants). When we are encouraging others to take refuge and meet with those who rebut that because their work requires them to entertain and therefore they cannot observe the precept of not consuming alcoholic drinks, then it is permissible that he observes the other four precepts. It does not matter even if he observes just one precept. Even if one just take refuge without observing the precepts, it does not matter too. Having taken refuge to become a Buddhist, and with gradual guidance, there will come a day when he understands the importance of observing the precepts.

We promote Jen Chen Buddhism and encourage the masses to observe the precepts. However, at times we do not use the term "observe the precepts", instead we call it "means of safeguarding blessings". Everyone has his own blessings and although they differ in degree and nature, nobody likes their blessings to be reduced. The best way to safeguard blessings is to observe the precepts. Jen Chen Buddhism advocates that everyone observe the Five Precepts. If the Five Precepts are not observed, then one will commit wrong deeds that can then reduce one’s blessings.

Let’s use a teacup as an example. If you put the teacup at the edge of the table, it has a higher probability of falling and shattering. If the teacup is placed in the middle of the table, then it is safe. Placing the teacup at the edge of the table is like we are at the brink of breaking the precepts; shattering the teacup is like destroying our blessings. Putting the teacup at the centre of the table is like observing the precepts. And, when the teacup is not broken, then it is like our blessings are assured. Innocent children, often put teacups along the edge of the table. Thus, adults will always teach them to put them at the centre. In the same way, the innumerable sentient beings are ignorant of the terror of cause and effect. They are always at the fringe of danger - by not observing the precepts, and committing various evil karma such as killing, theft, sexual misconduct and lying. That is why the compassionate Buddha and Bodhisattvas teach sentient beings to observe the precepts and enable them to distance from the danger and to safeguard their own blessings. Therefore, to safeguard our own bliss and at the same time not disturb others bliss, we need to cultivate the way of safeguarding our blessings.

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3. Planting the fields of Blessings

Simple arithmetic says that the more we give away, the less we have. But in truth, the more we give, the more we have. Because when we give, we are actually planting the Fields of Reverence, Gratitude and Compassion. And like all virtuous fields, they reap beautiful harvests.

WHENEVER WE perform an act of offering or giving, it is cultivating blessings. It is called planting the fields of blessing. When we make an offering of money, materials or medicine to members of the Sangha, we are cultivating the Field of Reverence. When we offer food, money or other materials to our parents, teachers and elders, we are cultivating the Field of Gratitude. When we give money or other materials to the needy, we are cultivating the Field of Compassion.

Why are they called fields? The fields refer to the field or compound of our mind. The fields of the mind can produce all that are good and also all that are evil. Many types of plants, both good and bad, can grow in our fields. When we perform a virtuous act, then the fields of our mind is virtuous. Doing a virtuous act, is planting a virtuous cause. In time to come, it will reap blessings.

When you can contribute money for the building of Buddhist Viharas, offering to members of the Sangha, then this is the best method of cultivating blessings for yourself. When you relieve the burden of the needy, that is planting the fields of compassion. With a compassionate heart, one can live a life of abundance in future lives or even be reborn in the celestial realm. Contributing to the publication of Buddhist books is a very good thing to do. Human beings need wisdom, without which one is ignorant, foolish. When we seek wisdom, we should give towards

the publication of Buddhist sutras and books so that others can read them and unfold their wisdom. This is the best method of cultivating our wisdom. Therefore when we are learn and practise Buddhism, we need to cultivate blessings and wisdom at the same time. Jen Chen Buddhism advocates cultivating blessing, wisdom and graciousness.

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4. The doctrine on speech restraint

It is a common experience that we sometimes regret saying something that we should not have said, or that we talked too much. In the Bodhisattva method of cultivation, one speaks only when necessary, no more and no less. The principle of speech restraint is that our speech should benefit others. Otherwise, silence is always golden.

THERE ARE a few methods of speech restraint: if a child has a habit of uttering nonsense, his parents will restrain the child from doing that; students who like to talk nonsense will be warned by their teachers not to do so. If, in school or in the army, their teachers or senior army officers may tell those who are in the habit of uttering nonsense off. But such methods of speech restraint are involuntary and one does not actually ‘turn over a new leaf’.

In a person’s lifetime, the evil karma arising from his speech including telling lies, frivolous speech, double-tongue, harsh or evil speech must have unknowingly caused many misunderstandings and hurt many people. When we become Buddhists, we should turn over a new leaf, refrain from all evils and perform all that are virtuous. We should refrain from telling lies, frivolous speech, double-tongue and harsh or evil speech. Some practitioners of the Small Vehicle Buddhism cultivate speech restraint by simply sitting down with their eyes shut, and maintaining silence. But a Bodhisattva practising the Bodhisattva Path actually teaches one to give praise, consolation, encouragement, affection, and the use of kind words etc. These are effective methods of lessening our evil karma arising from speech.

In advocating Jen Chen Buddhism, we impart to all to respect the Bodhisattvas, pay reverence to the Bodhisattvas, learn from the Bodhisattvas and be Bodhisattvas ourselves. Thus, we need to apply the Bodhisattva method of cultivation; talking only when we need to, no more and no less, and refrain from telling lies or uttering nonsense. Our principle in speech must be that it should benefit others. Only then, is it the real doctrine on speech restraint.

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5. It takes skills to keep one’s temper in check

Controlling our temper is no easy matter. It helps to know that we lose our temper because of ignorance - we don’t know why. Constantly contemplate the mind and arrest the ignorance as it is about to arise, much like the cat keeping watch on the mouse. Then naturally the world is at peace, and there is no need to speak of controlling the temper.

THE TEMPER is indeed troublesome. If a person has the tendency to lose his temper over trivialities, then it is not an easy task to control it because temper is not something that can be controlled. In order not to lose our temper, we must be accomplished in our conduct. We need to constantly sharpen our skill in self-observation; we need to contemplate on the source of our temper. A few years ago, I penned the following phrase: ‘Constantly observe that ignorance does not arise; then naturally the world will be at peace.’ We need to know that temper stems from ignorance.

What is ignorance? Ignorance is lacking in knowledge, anything that we do not know constitutes ignorance. Ask a person who often loses his temper. He will invariably answer: "I don’t know." Ask a murderer: "Why do you kill?" He will certainly say: "I don’t know." Ask someone with the habit of abusing others: "Why do you use abusive language?" The reply will be: "I don’t know myself." All in all, nobody knows why. This is ignorance. Where does it stem from? Nobody knows. Because sentient beings are overwhelmed with darkness, therefore ignorance arises. We need to know that our habits are the consequences of our ignorance. These are causes and effects and are mutually interdependent. Thus, in order to prevent the arising of ignorance, we need to arrest our undesirable habits; to eradicate these, we must not allow ignorance to arise.

In fact, to overcome ignorance is easy. All we need to do is constantly observe ourselves, and check where our ignorance stems from. If it stems from our mind, then we have to contemplate our mind daily to prevent ignorance from arising. It is like a cat catching a mouse. In the quiet of the night when no one is around the house, the mouse sneaks out to steal food. Once it catches its attention, the cat springs on all its four limbs and focuses its eyes on the mouse. At this moment, the mouse is too frightened to run even for its life, not to say anything about stealing food. If our mind is at the brink of committing evil at a time when ignorance is about to rise, then we must exercise our awareness in the same way as the cat fixes its steely eyes on the mouse. We use our wisdom to enlighten and illumine the mouse in our mind, then our ignorance disappears. This is also a skill in cultivation.

If you constantly contemplate your mind, you are mindful when your ignorance is about to arise; you also know when your undesirable habits are about to go into action. Furthermore, you also know when your temper is about to erupt. Many things will begin to change from then on. Naturally, you are at peace and there is no need to control your temper anymore, and naturally it disappears.

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6. Emotion, love and desire

The Eight Distresses that we experience - birth, ageing, sickness, death, parting with what we loved, meeting with what we dislike, unfulfilled desires, and the ills of the Five Skandhas, turn the whole into a ‘boundless sea of suffering.’ The following three answers explain how the sea of suffering of this world originates from the impurities of our emotions, love and desires, and how to curb with emotion, love and desire, and the need to uphold righteousness for a happy and blissful life.

Emotion, love and desire: THE GREED and the impurities of emotion, love and desire which are created by the six roots of the human race, namely, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Human beings shed tears when happiness, grief or emotion overwhelms them. We shed tears when we part with our loved ones; our mouths water at the sight of the food we crave for. These fluids resulting from emotion, love and desire, are like water. If everyone has an unceasing flow of tears, then as a society, and as a nation, how much ‘water’ will we produce? If we extend to the entire humanity of the world, then the water so produced will accumulate enough to form a huge ocean. This is how the sea of suffering is formed. However, those who are in this sea do not know how to free themselves. They consider wrong to be right, and false to be true. They are deeply lost in this sea of suffering, and take sorrow to mean happiness, thereby resulting in a boundless world of suffering - the boundless sea of suffering.

As Buddhists, we should form Dharma-causes with others, not the troublesome or evil-causes. Learn to distance from emotion so as to uphold righteousness. Learn to let go of emotion, love and desire, thereby liberating us. In this way, we will be able to lift ourselves out of this sea of suffering. 

Emotion, love and desire is a sea of suffering: THE THREE words: emotion, love and desire, make the world a sea of suffering. If ask about the source of the boundless suffering in this world, I would reply that it is due to emotion, love and desire. All the males and females of the world have emotion, without which where does humanity come from? Human beings are sentient beings because they have feelings or emotions. However, together with feelings, there ought to be awareness. Buddhism is an awakening or enlightening religion. "Having feelings and awakened" is a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva practising the Bodhisattva Path is a "awakening other sentient beings". We are all sentient beings, but we should strive to be Bodhisattvas. A wise Bodhisattva will know how to deal with feelings : what kind of feelings to discard and what kind of feelings to develop. 

Avoid emotions and be righteous: A MARRIED couple should have care and love for each other, and respect each other as if the other were a welcome guest. To be a conscientious wife, one should not only be filial to the husband’s parents, but also be gentle and harmonious with his brothers and sisters. Do not treat your husband as if he belongs to you and you alone, and ignore the other things that are related to him and to his feelings. You must realise that your husband is the beloved son of his parents. If you love him, you should also love those whom he loves. In the same way, to be a responsible husband, one must love and respect his wife’s parents as well. Since you have married their favourite daughter, naturally you need to be respectful and filial to your parents-in-law.

A married couple should avoid emotions and be righteous. Two persons marry because of love. But if they were to do nothing else but court each other all day long without engaging in meaningful employment, then that is terrible! How can a stable family be established in this manner?

Therefore having started a family, all family matters should be resolved with rational and wisdom. Matters relating to building a peaceful and happy life, earning a livelihood, handling family chores, starting a career, all need to be dealt with zeal, progress and diligence. This is exactly the correct path for a married couple to follow.

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Copyright 2001. Jen Chen Buddhism Centre